If only, if only I had continued to tell my friend no when he kept bugging me to drive to Stockton, the night that changed my life in so many different ways.
Let me start from the beginning. I was hanging out that Saturday afternoon with my friends. We went to the mall to buy the newest Jordans.
We didn’t end up buying them because the line was too long and we didn’t feel like waiting. On our way back to the car, my friend found a wallet that had $300 cash and some credit cards. We split $150 between the three of us.
After we left the mall, I told my friend, “Go to the gas station so we can use the credit cards for gas before they turn them off.” He did as I said and it worked. We got a full tank of gas and went straight to McDonald’s and got a lot of food, too much food. Once we noticed the credit cards worked for gas and food, we decided to go to a mall to buy Joggers. Of course it didn’t work, because by the time we got out there the owner had cancelled the cards.
We got back to my friend’s house midafternoon with nothing to do but get high and relax. In the early evening, we split up and two friends went to hang out with some females and left my other friend and me to find something to do.
We went to a neighborhood where we always went when bored. I got off the freeway and went to Starbucks so I could charge my cell phone. I charged it for 15 or 20 minutes until one of the staff members told me to buy something or we had to leave. So right before I left, I FaceTimed my girlfriend.
I was so happy to see her face and talk to her, even though my baby was sick. I asked her if she wanted to come to Stockton with us, to my house, because I really didn’t have anything else to do. Of course she said yes, because she missed me as much as I missed her. I was on my way to her when my phone died again. So I stopped at my friend’s house, which I regret doing.
I went to just charge my phone, that’s it, but things didn’t go as planned. I put my phone on the charger so I could tell my girlfriend to be ready in 30 minutes once my phone powered on. While I waited for my phone to reach 50 percent my friend came out of his room to see me hanging out in the living room.
As we were on our way out the door, my friend asked to come with us. I never asked for him to come. I wanted to say no, but I said yes. Then he began bugging me to drive. He asked me over and over again. I kept telling him no over and over again, but he wouldn’t stop bugging. I finally gave in.
Before we picked up my girlfriend, we went to get some weed. I was still driving. Once we finally went to pick her up, I had my friend go inside to get her. They came out with another person with them, so I automatically knew we were going to be deep.
One friend asked to be dropped off, because he didn’t want to go anymore. Once everybody got into the car, there were five of us. My one friend started bugging me to drive again. The whole way to my other friend’s house something was telling me not to let him drive. I pulled up to to let my friend out at his house.
Right after I dropped him off, I hopped in the back with the love of my life. My baby. We talked and kissed while my friend drove us.
At first, he was driving cool and everything was going smoothly. Then traffic started to slow down so we all told him to slow down, but he didn’t listen. He cut someone off and almost hit someone else’s car. We were so fired up, we told him to get off at the next exit, but he told us, “Naw, I got it. I’ll slow down.” So we all calmed down and he started to drive like a normal person.
We were 20 or 30 minutes away from my house when I noticed a car behind us with their lights off. I looked back three times. The first time I was thinking it was the police. The second time I was thinking it wasn’t the police but the third time I looked back they turned on their headlights and siren to pull us over.
No one had a license, we had drugs in the car, and the car was stolen, which we all knew. I told my friend, “Go, go, go. Get to the next exit.” The faster he went, the more it made my other friend and girlfriend panic. They told my friend, “Stop, stop, stop!”
In a blink of an eye, we were flipping over many times screaming each others’ names. I was holding onto my girlfriend my hardest until I blacked out.
When I woke up, I was outside the car somehow. All the windows were smashed, and the car landed on the wrong side of the freeway. I thought I was dead watching the scene, no lie. It was kind of like one of those movies when your spirit leaves the body and no one can hear or see you.
That’s when my friend called my name and I knew I wasn’t dead. I asked where my girlfriend and my other friend were, but he didn’t answer me. I saw my other friend running toward a body on the ground on the freeway. That’s when police drew their guns on my friend and me, telling us to get down. We did as they said.
Once I got down I noticed I was bleeding from several places. They put us in handcuffs and took us to the hospital for our wounds. The moment they put me on the gurney I felt like I lost something. I just didn’t know what yet.
After all my wounds were patched up, a detective I had seen talking to my friends came to ask me a bunch of questions. I told him, “I can’t remember too much.” He asked who was the driver. I told him, “I don’t know. We just paid for a ride to get to Stockton.” Another question: “What does the driver look like?” “I don’t remember.”
Then he asked if my friend was the driver. I told him I was sure he wasn’t the driver. The more he asked those questions the more he got the same answers.
At the end of the interview he asked, “Who is this woman to you?” I told him, “She’s my girlfriend.”
The next couple of words he said to me forever broke my heart.
“I know you don’t want to rat your boy out, but we know he was the driver. He killed your girlfriend in that car crash.”
I was lost for words. All I could do was cry and cry. No words would come out at all.
Some claimed I snitched on my friend, but some also know the truth.
Ballout is incarcerated in Solano County Juvenile Institutions, west of Sacramento, California, for a probation violation. He is 17.
This column appeared in The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth. David Inocencio founded The Beat Within in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.